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MDA’s SSL to Work with DARPA on Satellite Servicing Capability for Spacecraft in Geostationary Orbit

SSL and DARPA are Developing the Capability to Service Spacecraft On-Orbit. Credit: MDA.

MDA’s U.S. subsidiary, Space Systems Loral (SSL), today entered into an agreement with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop satellite servicing of spacecraft in geostationary orbit (GEO) for the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program.

MDA Supports Both LEO AND GEO Servicing Efforts

MDA will now be working on efforts to service satellites in both LEO and GEO.

The deal comes just two months after MDA announced SSL would supply NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center with the satellite bus for the Restore-L Spacecraft which will be used to service a government satellite in low earth orbit (LEO).

In another agreement announced last summer, MDA US Systems, a division of MDA managed by SSL, received a contract from DARPA to design and build a robotic arm flight hardware for the first phase of the RSGS program. The work is being done for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, which is the prime contractor.

A New Business Segment

According to MDA, the agreement will be the foundation of a new business segment for the company “that will serve both commercial and government operators with repair, upgrade, relocation, and refueling of on-orbit assets.”

“RSGS’s capability will be marketed to both commercial and government satellite operators, providing them with unprecedented flexibility in fleet management and capital deployment,” said Steve Oldham, senior vice president, strategic business development, SSL. “Refueling provides a compelling value proposition and our sophisticated robotic capability will enable new on-orbit applications only available from RSGS.”

“Servicing on orbit could provide significant cost savings compared to current practices and a major advantage to the security of both commercial and Government space assets,” said Gordon Roesler, DARPA’s program manager for RSGS. “The engineering challenges that need to be overcome to achieve this degree of facility at GEO are considerable, entailing significant technical risks but also carrying the potential for significant rewards. In addition to inspection and repair, RSGS robotics promise a new era in which satellite upgrades and enhancements at GEO are no longer just a dream.”

The agreement will have SSL providing the spacecraft along with managing the operation of the spacecraft and integrating the robotic payload supplied by DARPA .

DARPA will also secure a launch for the demonstration spacecraft.

“This will be SSL’s first spacecraft contract with the Department of Defense in recent years and it is the third time that we have been selected by the U.S. government for a major program in just two months, following our recent selections for NASA’s Restore-L and Psyche missions,” said Howard Lance, chief executive officer, SSL MDA Holdings. “It clearly demonstrates the success of our strategy to bring the benefits of our commercial business to a broader audience and to grow our business with U.S. government work.”

In creating this new business segment, MDA is realizing an effort that started in 2010 with ups and downs along the way. Their first foray was in 2011 when they signed Intelsat as an anchor tenant for satellite servicing, but the initiative failed to take-off when they couldn’t drum up any U.S. government support.

According to MDA “when launched, RSGS will have the capability to perform multiple servicing missions for both planned and urgent customer needs, including: high-resolution inspection; refueling; correction of mechanical anomalies; assistance with relocation and other orbital maneuvers; and installation of attachable payloads, enabling upgrades to existing assets. The company will market these services as a commercial business and is already in discussion with several key customers.”

In related news, Orbital ATK is suing DARPA over this contract. We’ll have a story on that issue Monday.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.